Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Brazilian Bus Driver Syndrome

I mentioned in a previous entry that governments are amoral (consider, for one thing, that we've never had a president who wasn't a mass murderer). And this reminds me of Brazilian Bus Driver Syndrome, a phenomenon I noticed during a trip to Rio de Janeiro several years ago. Bus drivers there have an unwritten but firm agreement with gangs and drug lords: they do not interfere with or testify against crimes and violence perpetrated on their buses, and, in exchange, they themselves are spared.

The question is: what does this situation do, psychologically, to those drivers? It would be hard to make a moral case against them. They're poor, their jobs feed their families, and they never, themselves, do anything evil. They couldn't personally stop anything that goes on (they're not police, they don't carry guns), and, with their attention occupied with the safe piloting their vehicles, they're rarely in a position to testify against perpetrators anyway.

The drivers are not Bad Guys. They're not even true accomplices, as they reap no share and actively facilitate none of the activities they're forced to endure. But I couldn't stop looking at them. They had grim, hardened, harrowed faces, all of them, with dead eyes. They were withered, even the young ones.

The faces of Brazilian bus drivers, in fact, show the same degradations famously seen in the faces of presidents at the end of their terms. It's usually chalked up to premature aging from the rigors of office. But that's not it.

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